Saturday, 29 September 2012



It's pretty obvious why this has been retitled from The Samaritan. Firstly, that's not a hugely enticing title: it suggests goodness and kindness and biblicalness which is going to sit oddly with the dayglo 18 certificate. Secondly, Samuel L Jackson is very good at doing fury: he's an endlessly watchable actor anyway but even moreso when cranking up the anger, rage and/or righteous indignation. And thirdly of course, he's Nick Fury in the Avengers saga, so if they can hook their entirely dissimilar and completely unconnected movie to the Marvel bandwagon, who cares? Expect to see the next Scarlett Johansson movie renamed The Widow, or the new Robert Downey Jr movie simply called Iron. Similarly: why else use a pullquote like "A gritty serving of pulp fiction" on the front of the box?

Fury is a twisty con artist thriller of the who's-conning-who? variety in which the "mark" - in this case Tom Wilkinson - is a smart and dangerous multi-millionaire but for the purposes of the plot has to spend the last reel or so behaving like an utter moron. After 25 years in prison for killing his former grifter partner, Jackson wants to go straight but gets forced into a shaky partnership with the dead man's son, to pull off a con which should net them eight million dollars. Add in the sexy young woman (Ruth Negga), about whom there's a spectacularly horrible plot development that I simply didn't buy, Deborah Kara Unger for one scene as a veteran con artist and a few moments of needlessly graphic violence (in particular a guy's face gouged out with a broken wine bottle) should be fun.

It should be fun in a Sting kind of way, but it's far edgier and nastier and comes with absolutely no laughs; it's impossible to side with the grifters because they're basically crooks and crucially, unlike the con artists in The Sting or TV's Hustle or the crooks in the Ocean's movies, they're not lovable crooks. Wilkinson's mark may well have it coming to him, but not from these guys. They're not cheeky rogues exacting an elegant revenge for a previous wronging, they're callous and joyless thugs who spend more time betraying and manipulating one other than they do on the con itself, and the relationships between the three of them would leave a nasty taste in the mouth if you could actually believe them. Despite Jackson and Wilkinson, it's a film that's very difficult to like.


The Wrath Of Con:

Wednesday, 26 September 2012



Years ago, I used to have a paperback of Erich Von Daniken's Chariots Of The Gods?, which claimed that aliens had visited Earth at various times in mankind's distant past (though, significantly, not since the invention of the camera) and guided our species' development for as yet unknown reasons: what other explanation could there be for the Nazca lines in Peru, the ancient Mayan carvings on the Sarcophagus Of Palenque, or the "wheel within a wheel" from the Book of Ezekiel? Maybe it's true, maybe not. Fast forward to 1980 and we get this silly conspiracy thriller hitching Von Daniken's dubious theories to the mythos of Roswell, Area 51 and what would, thirteen years hence, develop into The X-Files.

A trio of astronauts encounter an alien spacecraft while launching a new satellite from the back of the shuttle (which appears far smaller than in reality): there is an explosion and the craft ends up in the Arizona desert. The American military secretly move it to Hangar 18 in an Air Force base in Texas (I'm not sure how you can secretly move something the size of a football pitch a minimum of 170 miles) where it can be properly investigated and monitored. But the shuttle astronauts, who've been hung out to dry over the disaster, decide to track down the alien craft even as NASA's top scientists (led by Darren McGavin) study it and its potentially life-changing contents. More enjoyable are the scenes with the White House top brass (Joseph Campanella and the legendary Robert Vaughn) scheming to contain the story for their own political ends as, somewhat inconveniently, the UFO has arrived two weeks before the election and the vote could go either way....

It's got the stamp of Capricorn One all over it as the sinister government agents, credited as mibs (men in black), try to control the situation - there's even a car chase where the heroes' brakes have been tampered with. Hangar 18 isn't very good, but it's an efficient enough matinee B-movie that rattles along perfectly well with a reliable cast of familiar TV faces (Gary Collins and Pamela Bellwood also show up) and a decent John Cacavas score. It actually had a UK theatrical release at the time - I can still remember seeing the "In cinemas now!" trailers in ITV's commercial breaks - and it got a home video certificate as late as 1996. Since then, however, the film seems to have vanished completely, which is a shame; however someone has uploaded the whole thing to YouTube which will suffice as a last resort, in the absence of a proper release that I could have added to my rental queue.




I have no interest in drugs. I've never taken them, it's highly unlikely I ever will. Call me an idiot, but anything that's illegal, unhealthy, addictive and expensive strikes me as four terrible ideas rolled into one large terrible idea (and then set light to). Frankly I value my absence of a police record, my (debatable) sanity and my just-about-ticking-over bank balance more than the evanescent pleasures of the spliff or the needle. Nor do I know enough about the subject to have any arguable opinion on legalisation - I suspect there's a case for it for certain medical purposes but I've not read anything that's convinced me it should be decriminalised for recreational use; even if it was, I still seriously doubt I'd ever try it. I just don't think I want it. I don't even drink or smoke.

And as far as movies go, I have curious difficulty empathising with movies where the protagonists, the heroes, are either selling the stuff, getting wasted on it themselves, or both. When horrible things are happening to the lovable stoner hero, it's easy to just mutter "well, it's your own fault, loser" and hope he gets spectacularly caught in the DEA and gangster crossfire. Look at something like Pineapple Express, in which Seth Rogen's weed-addled user-dealer constantly confounds audience expectation by not being shot in the back of the head, executed by the cartel for the crime of being a boring, disposable arsehole. Brian De Palma's Scarface gets away with it through the sheer excess, the gloriously tacky decor and fashions and, crucially, the fact that Tony Montana falls in the final reel rather than sailing into the sunset with a wink to the camera. (I have yet to watch a single Cheech And Chong film.)

The heroes of Oliver Stone's Savages are not lovable at all: a pair of Californian pot growers, getting filthy rich off the most potent marijuana strains from seeds smuggled out of Afghanistan: best friends environmentalist Ben (Aaron Johnson) and ex-Navy SEAL Chon (Taylor Kitsch), living in a blissful beachfront menage-a-trois with mutual girlfriend and narrator Ophelia, known as O (Blake Lively). But the evil Mexican drugs cartel, headed by the ruthless Elena (Salma Hayek) and her wonderfully despicable henchman Lado (Benicio Del Toro), want to take over Ben and Chon's lucrative operation, and seize O as hostage to force their compliance - can these two losers get her back and/or bring the Mexicans down?

Curiously, it relies on the same plot devices as Licence To Kill, the Latin America-based Bond movie (which also featured Benicio Del Toro as a drug kingpin's henchman) in which the heroes attempt to bring down the organisation by suggesting the presence of a traitor within their ranks, and also steal a substantial amount of the villains' money to use against them. And it also depends on Elena suddenly switching from hardass drugs boss to emotionally vulnerable human being, which didn't really ring true. But it's hard to care one way or another who lives or dies, who's double-crossing who, whether the corrupt DEA agent (John Travolta, having fun) is as morally bankrupt as the Mexicans, or indeed as Ben and Chon. None of these characters can possibly have been so naive regarding the dangers of the business they've chosen to make their millions: they knew the risks so there's little sympathy for the dumbass idiots when the bullets start flying.

With no one to root for, it's down to the filmmaking and actually Savages isn't bad: it looks pretty great and it's Oliver Stone's best for some time, his first genre movie since U-Turn back in 1997. Certainly it's better than the surprisingly muted biopic W and the (quite rightly) restrained World Trade Center, and the unqualified mess of Alexander. (Disclaimer: I rather enjoyed Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.) I've usually enjoyed his films, particularly his more shouty and hysterical ones: JFK is a long-standing personal favourite which is like having random facts bellowed at you for three solid hours; Nixon is a sorely underrated film, and Any Given Sunday is probably the only movie ever made to get me even slightly interested in the world of American football. Savages isn't up there with his best, it's too long (at 131 minutes it's one of his shorter ones but it feels long) and it pulls a very dubious trick with the climax, suddenly winding back half a reel with the voiceover "this is how I expected it to end, but this is what REALLY happened..." and switching to a frankly less effective ending that I liked a lot less. Still, it's some return to form, Travolta and Del Toro are always good value, and it's a little sad to see it being all but dropped from the circuits after only a week.


Monday, 24 September 2012



It would be very, very easy, and extremely lazy, to just dismiss Michelangelo Antonioni's celebrated 1964 study of "cultural neurosis and existential doubt" (thank you, Wikipedia) as a boring and impenetrable load of old wank. Certainly it is cripplingly boring, it's a massive struggle to get into - a struggle which I eventually lost - and it has no plot or characters or incident of any interest whatsoever: it is a European art film after all. Is it merely crass philistinism to find it dull and meaningless? If the old cliche about the viewer only getting out of Art what he/she brings to it, is it somehow my fault for not liking the movie? Why isn't it Antonioni's fault? He only directed the bloody thing after all.

Somewhere in a bleak industrial hellscape full of factories belching fire and smoke and unspeakable noise, Giuliana (Monica Vitti) seems to be having trouble fitting in with the world following an apparent car accident that left her physically (but not psychologically) unharmed. She thinks she wants to open a shop but has no idea what to sell. Corrado (a dubbed Richard Harris) turns up to recruit personnel for a factory in South America; they, her husband and a few others then hole up in a wharfside shack for what seems like ages, lounging around on a bed, eating quails' eggs and talking nonsense before, burning one of the partition walls; then a cargo ship looms out of the oppressive fog which apparently has some kind of contagious infection on board.

Then Giuliana's young son is mysteriously paralysed; she tells him a bedtime story about a girl who spots a mysterious ship and then hears magical singing coming from the rocks - only to find that her son was only pretending to be paralysed, for absolutely no conceivable reason. And on and on it plods. None of The Red Desert makes a shred of sense as a coherent narrative, there's no invitation to get involved with the characters or anything that happens. So what's the point? Is the struggle to make it to the end supposed to mirror Giuliana's struggle to make sense of her life and her circumstances? Why is most of the movie swathed in cold monochrome (even the mud looks black) except for splashes of bright red everywhere: handrails, barrels of chemicals, the internal wall of the dockside shack?

Search me, guv. Look, obviously film needs to experiment: someone invented the close-up, the jump cut, the Steadicam, Cinerama and Smellovision. And obviously different films and filmmakers need to attempt different things; it would be a colossally boring medium if there was no stylistic or technical differences between Citizen Kane and The Fast And The Furious. Furthermore, it is nice that some films require you, the mere viewer, to up your game and work with the film rather than being spoonfed simplistic mush. But there's a difference between difficult and impossible, and there is a point at which the film's likely rewards are just not going to be worth the effort. Obviously the intent is there, but why put it across in such a manner? Presumably we're just supposed to feel as baffled, bewildered and alienated as Giuliana is. Well, congratulations because that's precisely what was achieved.

I'm not asking for car chases or axe murders (although it might have helped), but Art cannot live by endless neurosis-based bleating alone. Is The Red Desert a bad film, then? Certainly not: there's also a difference between a bad movie and a film you just don't like. And they're not necessarily mutually exclusive; Troll 2 is a bad movie that I don't like, Lifeforce is a really bad movie that I do like. I'm guessing this movie is a moderately good one that I just can't stand and which seemed hellbent on either putting me to sleep or daring me to switch the thing off. Well, I put the two hours in. And I'm not an idiot. I rather liked The Passenger, and I remember finding Blow-Up interesting. But I just plain don't get this one, and I suddenly have no desire to check out any more of Antonioni's films.



Sunday, 23 September 2012



Every so often, it's as though producers decide they want a nice holiday in the sunshine at the studio's expense, so they commission a colourful piece of happy-smiley fluff set in Hawaii or the Caribbean. There's no other good reason why we get pretty but empty films like After The Sunset, Into The Blue or Fool's Gold: big names like Pierce Brosnan, Jessica Alba and Matthew McConaughey essentially get six weeks in a luxury beach resort with a bit of easy acting work before lunch, and audiences get something warm and sunny full of bright colours and top movie stars kicking back and taking it easy on golden beaches with roaring surf and all the girls in bikinis.

The Big Bounce is a prime example: Owen Wilson, Morgan Freeman, Sara Foster, Charlie Sheen, Gary Sinise and Vinnie Jones all turn up in an amiable and silly crime caper so laid back it makes Sir Roger Moore look like Travis Bickle. Beach bum and petty crook Wilson is inveigled by Foster's womanly wiles into stealing a pile of Sinise's cash that's to be used as payoff money so he can build a huge hotel on sacred land (which will ruin Freeman's own beach paradise). But - seeing as it's based on an Elmore Leonard book - maybe their alliance isn't as simple, or as exclusive, as it seems: she's in league with someone else, who might be double-crossing them with someone else, and maybe the money isn't there anyway....Who's actually scamming who?

Most of The Big Bounce is easy on the eye and the brain: it's easy, flip and casual for the first hour and then piles on a series of unlikely plot twists. With the sunshine, surf and sand, it's a chillout film that feels best suited to being watched from a hammock while being wafted by a gentle sea breeze. In reality, of course, the escapism works better when watching it on a wet Thursday evening in a flat some ninety miles from the nearest coast but within earshot of a railway station tannoy, as far away as possible from the "no worries" idyll depicted. It's a thoroughly harmless, likeable distraction from reality. Directed by George Armitage, who's only made seven films since 1971 (and this one, apparently a commercial failure, was eight years ago).


Saturday, 22 September 2012



Back in 2008, Mark Tonderai directed Hush, a neat little Britsploitation thriller which didn't really show us anything startlingly new but was nevertheless well put together: exciting, engrossing and good nasty-edged fun with a nice rain-and-sodium-streetlights visual style to it. Sadly, despite a couple of familiar names in the cast and one of the top young stars of the moment, his second feature really is a second feature: back in ye olden days of the 1970s it would have relegated to the bottom half of a double-bill with a proper studio A-picture. These days, however, this kind of disposable support feature usually just gets shunted off onto the DVD shelves with little fanfare.

House At The End Of The Street is in pretty much every way a generic, anonymous potboiler of a movie: as with Hush there's nothing massively innovative or different about it but in this instance it comes across as implausible at best and downright silly at worst, and it's capped with a dubious plot twist that only really makes sense as a last-minute bonus surprise. Four years ago a young girl brutally murdered her parents (in an irritatingly stylised flashback) and promptly disappeared: her brother Max Thieriot's continued presence in the house has driven down property values in the area, which has allowed Elisabeth Shue and her teenage daughter Jennifer Lawrence to rent a house half the size of Blenheim Palace on a shift-nurse's wage. But Thieriot has a shocking secret in his basement....

Actually he has at least two secrets but neither of them are that shocking: at its best it's kind of okay but the final reels degenerate into the kind of bog-standard homicidal maniac theatrics we've seen in final reels for decades now, with the heroine running around a massive mansion evading the psycho and at least two people are lying dead. Which would be okay if it were actually exciting or scary, but other than the occasional Boo! technique of something unexpectedly lurching into frame with a big crash on the soundtrack it's neither. The film's official twitter hashtag is #HATES, which is perhaps pushing it a little but still appropriate. It shares a writing credit with the tiresome Dream House, where the sub-Shyamalan Big Twist also turned the whole thing into nonsense; here it's not as blatantly and laboriously signposted in flashing pink neon, but you'll still have figured out at least one gaping plothole by the time you reach the car park. Dispiritingly ordinary.


Wednesday, 19 September 2012



Well, hurrah: it's another martial arts movie based on a martial arts video game. It's a formula that's never really worked: Tekken was obviously twaddle but just about got by, the two Mortal Kombats weren't even that good. And I'm one of the few people who actually 1) went to see, and 2) didn't loathe the once-in-a-lifetime teaming of Jean-Claude Van Damme and Kylie Minogue in Streetfighter back in the nineties. (I didn't even mind the sort of sequel.) But they don't really work dramatically: when the plots are based exclusively around a series of one-on-one fights there's no room to try and inject real human character into what are basically little pixelated blobs that leap up in the air when you punch a button.

Maybe to make up for the ultra-simplicity of "Stanley Loses", "Game Over" and "Insert Coins Now", The King Of Fighters has an absolute avalanche of incomprehensibly daft back story than could scarcely have been more baffling if it had featured talking spoons. The world's elite martial artists periodically compete in a tournament in an alternative dimension to become The King Of Fighters; also in this dimension is the Orochi: an evil floating ball of CGI snakes which if released could mean the end of the world or something. Demented Rugal (Ray Park) steals the Sword, Necklace and Mirror created generations ago by the Three Clans, in order to free the Orochi and rule the universe forever, and summons the other fighters through the interdimensional gateway to crush them in blatantly unfair combat. Only undercover agent Maggie Q and disgruntled Sean Faris, last descendant of one of the Three Clans, can stop him, though Faris and Maggie's frankly charmless boyfriend are destined to be enemies....

While it's certainly colourful and it's always nice to see Maggie Q, the plot is little more than babbling gibberish and even though some of the one-on-ones are competently handled, it's impossible to care very much since none of it makes a blind bit of sense. And the 12 certificate means you don't get much in the way of crunchy violence, which to be honest it desperately needs. Barely worth the effort.



Saturday, 15 September 2012



Woody Allen's recent output is phenomenally variable. Some of them are perfectly civilised, handsomely crafted and stimulating entertainment (Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Midnight In Paris, Whatever Works), others are head-crushingly terrible (Cassandra's Dream, You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger). But that feels like the way it's always been: I'm one of the eight people in this world who don't think that much of some of the "early funny ones" like Sleeper or Everything You Always Wanted To Know Etcetera Etcetera. (I do need to see Love And Death again, though.) And sometimes I get surprised by how enjoyable some of the lesser-rated Allens are: I confess to a liking for Stardust Memories over an acknowledged classic like Crimes And Misdemeanours, and give me a Curse Of The Jade Scorpion over a 50/50 like Melinda And Melinda any day.

Having done Barcelona, Paris and London at least twice (Cassandra's Dream and Tall Dark Stranger), Allen continues his Grand European Tour with To Rome With Love, which flits between four unrelated stories, criss-crossing each other in the Eternal City. Some are built on fantasy conceits, such as Roberto Benigni's "If you ask me...." office drone who wakes up one morning to discover that the media ARE asking him, turning him into a persecuted celebrity in the process; or Jesse Eisenberg's architecture student torn between Greta Gerwig and Ellen Page while a not-really-there Alec Baldwin provides unsolicited guidance and the wisdom of age (in a device from Play It Again, Sam). Elsewhere there are wildly overstretched observations, like the idea of people singing beautifully when they're in the shower but never outside it. And there's simple sex farce, where a newlywed has to pretend to his stuffy relatives that hooker Penelope Cruz is actually his new bride.

Made in Italy with Italian money with a substantially Italian cast and crew, it's funny as well as rather sweet and romantic, which is a tonic after the all-encompassing lack of laughs, smiles or anything at all in Tall Dark Stranger. Some scenes work better than others - the shower singing is overdone - but that's inevitable in a compendium movie. It's stuffed with stars - there's also Judy Davis and Allen himself (doing the usual Allen thing) as the parents of the shower-singer's son's fiance, and even Flash Gordon's Ornella Muti pops up briefly. I don't really mind that much that it's full of stock cardboard characters, given that it's essentially so good-natured and charming and kept me and the other eight people in the cinema chuckling through most of the running time.

That's more audible laughter than the last three Sacha Baron Cohen movies put together. Before the feature there was a trailer for an inspirational wrestling comedy (Here Comes The Boom) whose comedic content appeared to consist of little more than Kevin James being hit in the face, falling over or both. Cynics might suggest the distributors put it there to make a fairly aimless Woody Allen diversion look better and more substantial, but I'll gladly take an aimless Woody Allen diversion over a Kevin James Gets Kicked In The Nads movie, a Sacha Baron Cohen Playing A Funny Foreigner movie or an Adam Sandler Doing Pretty Much Anything movie. I rather liked it.


Friday, 14 September 2012



A misconceived fusion of sleazy British softcore pornography and sleazy giallo slasher, in which the porn grinds to a halt for a series of vicious stranglings, both grinds to a halt for a gallery of comfortably familiar TV faces doing their usual thing, and everything grinds to a halt for a string of horse races with close to zero relevance to the rest of the film. And little in the way of jokes: the dreaded grubby British smut comedy has veered into grubby murder territory. Top-billed is the late and legendary Mary Millington who, bless her, can't act, but of course that's really not why she's there.

Who is killing off the centrefold models of Playbirds magazine (a real publication by David Sullivan, the film's executive producer who's namechecked over the racecourse tannoy)? Among the suspects are a creepy-looking photographer, an anti-porn Tory MP, a fulminating street preacher promising hellfire and damnation (Dudley Sutton) or the unspecified business associate (Derren Nesbitt) of the Playbirds managing editor (Alan Lake); the cops on the case include Gavin Campbell (later a regular presenter on That's Life), Glynn Edwards and Windsor Davies. Possibly the best tactic would be to send a WPC (Millington) undercover as the next centrefold....

Quite obviously, The Playbirds is terrible; it's technically nondescript wank fodder existing solely as an excuse for Millington, Suzy Mandel (who, to be honest, I prefer) and several other ladies to disrobe repeatedly; which is fine if you just want to look at their knockers but is actually rather boring if for some insane reason you're trying to treat it as a proper movie. The identity of the murderer is entirely irrelevant, but he/she is unmasked in an ugly and tastelessly gratuitous coda that's bolted onto the end as though they'd forgotten all about it. It's kind of vaguely enjoyable with the nostalgia factor of the late 70s period detail, the footage of Soho at its sleaziest and the sitcom favourites showing up for their cameos, and there's a sweet little relationship developing between Campbell's copper and Mandel's centrefold in peril, but once it cuts back to the tits and bums and horse racing sequences all interest drains away. Really, it's not worth bothering with.



Thursday, 13 September 2012



The race to reboot British cult TV action series for the 21st century multiplex circuits is over. The Avengers is probably dead in the water thanks to the Marvel Avengers Uberproject, The Professionals was talked about but appears to have long since stalled, and Dempsey And Makepeace: The Motion Picture will probably never happen, assuming anyone even remembers it. But everyone remembers Regan and Carter: hard-drinking, hard-loving Real Men chasing down villains, smashing up cars, smoking, drinking, and randomly yelling "you slag!" at everyone.

The Sweeney has already had two fair-to-middling cinema outings in the late 1970s with the original cast, where they could have a bit more swearing and violence than on ITV, and this spanking new reimagining has considerably more of both. Regan is now played by Ray Winstone in his best Ray Winstone bear-with-a-sore-head manner; Carter by Ben Drew, alias rapper/hip-hop artist Plan B - neither are anything like the original Regan and Carter; same names, entirely different characters, and crucially not as likeable. The Flying Squad are called in on a particularly vicious armed robbery where a woman was murdered: while Steven Mackintosh's humourless Internal Affairs officer investigates their record of brutality and alleged corruption, they soon have their man - or do they? Matters are not helped by Jack Regan humping Mackintosh's unhappy wife (Hayley Atwell)....

Strangely, the movie it most seems to want to be is Heat, with a blistering shootout in broad daylight after a bank heist through Trafalgar Square and the National Gallery; despite the earlier car chases and fisticuffs that's where the movie suddenly blazes into life. But Nick Love isn't Michael Mann and The Sweeney doesn't have a fraction of the impact of that film: it has little in the way of depth. And like Dirty Harry or Cobra, or so many other Bad Cop action spectaculars through the years, it's largely uncritical of its heroes' methods and their (specifically Regan's) cheerful disregard for due process, legal niceties, the consequences of their decisions or the idea that they might have the wrong man. Who cares? Whose side are you on?

When Carter jokes that the prospect of some real action has given him an erection, you almost feel that applies to the making of the movie and, with luck, the audience: it's a film directed at full cock and ideally watched that way as well. But then Nick Love is not generally one for subtlety: look at Outlaw, a confused, bellowing mess of a vigilante movie with Danny Dyer, or The Business, a Costa Del Crime swearathon with Danny Dyer (in fairness, the DVD broke down twenty minutes from the end so I probably missed all the scenes where Dyer gave the hedonism and casual violence up to become the Guardian's floristry correspondent), movies where brutish, blokey Men snarl and curse and wave their dicks in the air. Even the more romantic scenes are not exactly showcasing homo masculinus at his finest.

As a head-slamming action movie in which the forces of law and order are unrestrained by the forces of law and order, with baseball bats at the ready and over a hundred uses of the F-word (according to the BBFC), The Sweeney is thuggishly entertaining and passes the two hours well enough. It's hollow and empty and there's nothing going on in its head, but Winstone's old school hardnut act is always fun to watch and Drew is perfectly okay as the former delinquent turned eager young cop. And you also get Damien Lewis and Alan Ford (the latter not swearing once). It's not even close to a great movie, but it's decent enough while it's on if you can banish all memories of the TV show (though a heavily remixed version of a bit of the theme music plays over the end credits). You slag.


Saturday, 8 September 2012



Two things occurred to me while watching this massively violent new adaptation of the legendary comic strip, neither of which had anything to do with the fact that the cinema refused point blank to acknowledge they'd played the film noticeably out of focus. The first was that I would rather have been watching The Raid, which essentially took the same potboiler plot but made something visceral and exciting out of it by staging countless bone-crunching fight scenes in the confines of a gloomy tower block. The second was that I'd rather have been watching Judge Dredd, the 1995 movie in which Sylvester Stallone heretically took the helmet off, and was a hundred times more fun and more exciting than this charmless and witless concrete shoot-em-up.

The future: Mega City One (presumably there are others?) is a vast post-apocalypse metropolis stretching from Boston to Washington - the same distance as London to Dundee - with a population of 800 million. Law and order is in the hands of the Judges, dispensing instant justice without trial or appeal. But circulating within the downtrodden underclass at the 200-storey Peach Trees tower block slum is a new drug named slo-mo, which allows the user to experience life at incredibly slow speed: produced and distributed by scarred and embittered ex-prostitute turned gang boss Mama (Lena Headey) whose troops have wiped out all the rival gangs. When Judge Dredd (Karl Urban) and psychic rookie Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) turn up to investigate three homicides, Mama locks the block down until the residents execute the Judges....

Credit to them for sticking with a full-on 18 certificate for relentless violence rather than wimping out with a teen-friendly 15. But no amount of carnage amounts to anything if you don't really care what's going on. Whose side are we supposed to be on anyway? Presumably the judges, since the alternative is the murderous drug gangs, but the Judges are the ruthless enforcement of an authoritarian system that patently doesn't work and certainly hasn't brought crime under control. Obviously there's no empathy with Dredd himself: he is that Force Of Law Made Flesh and is deliberately given no personality or character at all: that's the whole point of him. Do we just root for the innocent citizenry caught in the crossfire? Whoever wins, their lives aren't going to get any better in the short (or most likely long) term.

None of which I'd have any significant problem if the film had some grace, style, wit or depth, but sadly it's just a series of sledgehammer action sequences and shootouts in the dingy corridors of a sink estate, with a fearsome array of weaponry that culminates in some kind of ultra-high-powered Gatling missile launcher gun that looks to carve through half the load-bearing walls of the building (mysteriously without it toppling to the ground like a grimy, graffiti-strewn Jenga) that slaughters the nearly citizenry but misses its actual targets by several yards. 'Twas ever thus: villains' lousy eyesight and inexhaustible ammunition are longstanding dramatic tropes of action movies, and John Woo movies would be at least an hour longer if they had to include the time taken to reload and aim. When they're done well you forgive them. But when they're not....

I'm not a Dredd purist so I'm not down on the movie because it is or isn't faithful to the comic source material: it certainly didn't bother me when Stallone took his hat off in the 1995 version even though That Never Happened in the strips. No, I'm unhappy with this version of Dredd because it's dull and unexciting (despite the carnage), and there's not even much in the way of futuristic spectacle as all but a few minutes of the film take place in the dimly lit confines of the tower block. Some of those scenes even look as if they were shot on lo-definition video (though, as mentioned before, the shoddy projection didn't help). As for the 3D: even though that's how it was shot I deliberately opted for a 2D screening on principle, as I'm increasingly fed up with the enforced 3D premium. But I suspect that with much of the film set in gloomy corridors, the double filtering of glasses and projector could well reduce it to an indiscernible murk even when it's not shown out of focus. Probably the best material to benefit from the 3D would be the slo-mo trip sequences in which the action is shot at 4,000 frames a second and augmented with twinkly CGI floating around the screen. Otherwise, in all honesty you're better off waiting for the Blu.

I wanted to like it: a thumpingly violent and colourful future dystopian romp with plenty of spectacular action and the kind of gleeful satirical humour you'd get from Paul Verhoeven. But I just got intensely bored by the movie, to the extent that I actively wanted Sylvester Stallone's Judge Dredd to come back. And that really can't be good for Dredd.


Thursday, 6 September 2012



Meh as in mehrde, meh as in mehdiocrity, meh as in mehritless, meh as in so mehny things wrong with it. Meh as in vulgar, charmless, not funny, not exciting, full of unsympathetic characters and shifting wildly in tone from gory splatter to childish smut. It's not just that it too frequently descends to piss and knob jokes, it's that it could have been something slightly better - if not a classic, certainly a film that's not a massive waste of time and money, and a film that doesn't send you out of the cinema wishing you'd watched something else instead (I could have seen The Three Stooges in the screen next door and I'm really not sure I made the right choice).

Okay, so maybe it's a sense of humour thing. But for The Watch, a film that's billed as a comedy and starring four people known for appearing in films which are billed as comedies, two mild smirks in a running time of nearly 102 minutes is an exceedingly poor batting average. You'd think that there'd be more mileage in four losers forming a Neighbourhood Watch group and ultimately foiling an alien invasion, but no: Ben Stiller (dull), Vince Vaughn (blokey), Richard Ayoade (nerdy) and Jonah Hill (aggressive) spend more time bickering amongst themselves than saving the Earth, and the aliens only seem to show up when the film remembers it's supposed to be more than just four mouthy blokes goofing off. Indeed, even when they find an alien and kill it, they're more interested in taking stupid photographs of themselves larking about with the corpse than alerting the authorities to the biggest scientific discovery of all time.

So it's not remotely amusing and the characters are dimwits that you really don't want to spend any time with. The sole bright spot is actually the alien monster design which is a proper physical animatronic effect rather than a CGI creation and is rather nicely done. That and the occasional gore shots sit uncomfortably against the gross sexual humour and crudity that the film seems to think it needs to make up for not having any proper jokes in it. Meh really is the only response.


Tuesday, 4 September 2012



Let's not mess about here: Total Recall is great. By "great" I mean a copper-bottomed, full-tilt, balls-to-the-wall all-time classic, and by Total Recall I mean Paul Verhoven's 1990 SF/action thriller that is still one of Arnold Schwarzenegger's best films (even if he is miscast as an ordinary bloke). Full of fantastic effects, a clever plot, Jerry Goldsmith conducting the National Philharmonic into a frenzy on the soundtrack, marvellous villainy from the mighty Michael Ironside, sex interest from Rachel Ticotin and Sharon Stone, and stupendous levels of violence, Total Recall is great. What I don't mean by "great" or "Total Recall", however, is Len Wiseman's shiny new remake that tones down the violence to the 12A category and cranks up the CGI to absurd levels, but does very little that's new or interesting.

Yet this shiny new Total Recall is not without its merits and is perfectly decent, if silly, studio multiplex fodder for the blockbuster season. At the end of the 21st century, chemical warfare has ravaged almost the entire world apart from the UK and Australia and the two nations - residential and manufacturing respectively - are linked by a giant lift shaft drilled right through the planet. Douglas Quaid (Colin Farrell) is an ordinary bloke working on the production line making "synths" - android police officers - who decides to have exciting memories uploaded into his brain to give his mundane life a boost. But then the police break in mid-procedure: every gets killed, Quaid finds out he isn't Quaid, and goes on the run from his top cop wife (Kate Beckinsale) who isn't really his wife after all; he meets Melina (Jessica Biel) who knows who he really is (and who he's been dreaming about)....

It hits many of the same beats as the original movie (I've never read the Philip K Dick story from which both films are derived), which means you can pretty much fill in the next ten minutes of the movie as it plays. This is actually an advantage as it means you can immerse yourself in the wonderfully designed futurescapes of the UK and Australia: vast multi-layered cities (with a touch of Escher about them) full of flying cars that remind you of The Fifth Element, although the film seems to want to be Blade Runner with its perpetual rain, cramped living space, thronging streets, and the towering mix of new and ancient architecture (and there's even a brief scene in which Quaid tries to work out who he is while playing a piano).

Perversely, even though Verhoeven's film has Arnie disguising himself as an old woman and travelling to Mars (and transforming the atmosphere with a millennia-old alien terraforming machine which he's found by mind-melding with a mutant's Siamese twin), it's the new version that seems the more implausible. If the UK and Australia are the only two countries left operational after a huge chemical war, that presumably means we're not world players any more and the new global superpowers will include the likes of Tanzania and Uruguay (why would their whole continents have been destroyed otherwise?). A socking great lift shaft right through the Earth (on a slight curve to miss the actual core itself) - whose bright idea was that and how the hell does it defy a massively increased gravitational pull by burrowing up the other side? How the hell did they even install it? Not to mention the plot point that you can actually get out of the carriage halfway through the journey and climb on the roof - something they outlawed in the days of InterCity.

Still, for a rompingly silly action spectacular full of chases and fights and more chases and fights and even more chases and fights followed by a robot invasion of Australia and another fight, Total Recall 2012 is rather fun. Don't let loyalty to Paul Verhoeven's dynamite original keep you away: it's certainly nowhere near it, but it's not awful either and despite the silliness it's visually impressive, Kate Beckinsale gives good head-kicking villainy and it never gets dull. Colour me pleasantly surprised by it.


Sunday, 2 September 2012



This perfectly decent multiplex rehash of The Exorcist comes to us with a respectable genre pedigree: probably the biggest name on the poster is probably producer Sam Raimi - it's from his Ghost House Pictures outfit - and it's directed by Ole Bornedal, whose original Danish thriller Nightwatch is well worth tracking down (certainly more than his American remake with Ewan McGregor). Admittedly the writing credits are perhaps less impressive, as the movie comes from the same pens as routine jump machine Boogeyman and numerological apocalypse bunkum Knowing, as well as the supposedly upcoming Poltergeist remake. Still, it's rather fun in an engaging enough popcorn fashion and doesn't try audience patience.

Essentially The Possession is a Jewish exorcism movie in which Jeffrey Dean Morgan's daughter becomes the target of a demonic spirit when they buy what turns out to be a dybbuk box, with the demon trapped inside. Alarmed at the sudden change in the girl's behaviour (which is initially put down to the trauma of his separation from Kyra Sedgwick), he tries to dispose of the box, but to no avail - until in despair he finds a Jewish exorcist (rapper Matisyahu) who will perform the necessary rituals....

It is bunk, obviously, and it cribs shamelessly from The Exorcist on several occasions. But it's entertaining enough on the Friday night popcorn level, with plagues of moths, contorted bodies, sudden deaths, wonky eyes, and faces appearing on MRI scans. The Possession doesn't win any points for subtlety, but as a functional and well-produced creepy horror movie it does its job well enough, even if that job is basically shouting "Boo!" at you at random intervals. And it won't last: it's another of those anonymous horror potboilers like The Unborn (also Jewish) and The Uninvited: it makes you jump at the time but it doesn't stay with you the way the greatest horror films do, and it'll have mostly drained from your mind by the time you get to the car park.